Anonymous Conservative uses some interesting research into the evolved behavioral dynamics of animal populations and applies it to human populations to explain the Left-Right political divide. The gist of the argument is that two distinct behavioral psychologies exist among animals, r and K:
The terms r and K came from variables in equations which described how populations would change over time. r represented the maximal reproductive rate of an individual, while K represented the carrying capacity of an environment.
The first environment an organism may face is the presence of freely available resources, which is referred to as an r-selective environment.
In r-selection, those individuals who waste time fighting for food will be out-reproduced by pacifists, who simply focus upon eating, and reproducing. Fighting also entails risks of injury or death – risks which are pointless given the free availability of resources everywhere. Hence this environment will favor a tendency towards conflict avoidance, and tend to cull the aggressive and competitive. It will also evolve tendencies towards mating as early as possible, as often as possible, with as many mates as possible, while investing as little effort as possible rearing offspring. Here, there are unlimited resources just waiting to be utilized, and even the most unfit can acquire them. As a result, it is more advantageous to produce as many offspring as possible, as quickly as possible, regardless of fitness, so as to out-reproduce those who either waste time producing quality offspring or waste time competing with each other.
In the other environment, a population exists at the carrying capacity of its environment. Since there is not enough food to go around, and someone must die from starvation, this will evolve a specific psychology within such a species. Termed a K-type psychology, or K-Selected Reproductive Strategy, this psychology will embrace competitions between individuals and accept disparities in competitive outcomes as an innate part of the world, that is not to be challenged. Since individuals who do not fight for some portion of the limited resources will starve, this environment will favor an innately competitive, conflict-prone psychology. Study shows, such a psychology will also tend to embrace monogamy, embrace chastity until monogamous adulthood, and favor high-investment, two-parent parenting, with an emphasis upon rearing as successful an offspring as possible.
This explains the very different social outlook of the pioneers from, say, the modern Progressives. To the pioneers, everything must be worked for, built, exploited, expanded and defended. They cleared the forests, planted the prairies, drilled and tapped the aquifers, mined the mountains, built power plants, built dams and irrigated the dry lands. Progressives see and teach that as a history of evil and greed, all while maximizing their use of it and working to destroy it by neglect or regulation.
This also is a very interesting response by Anonymous Conservative to a comment:
…there is a body of research which indicates Liberalism may correlate with higher levels of Specialist Intelligence, and this may be an evolved way of finding a niche to operate in without a lot of competition. In other words, if you can make yourself useful in a way other’s can’t, you don’t need to face others in competition.
That’s great, and good for society, but specialist intelligence doesn’t necessarily correlate with the type of intelligence underlying common sense. So you can get a physicist who is great at unraveling what is going on at the sub-atomic level, but he doesn’t really know jack about the human world, and lacks all street smarts, and common sense. He may win a Nobel prize in his specialist discipline, but he wouldn’t last two minutes on the battlefield, and could never run his own business.
If he stayed in his discipline, he would be a great benefit to his society, but unfortunately, he usually then demands to call the shots everywhere else, based on his ability in his discipline.
There is clearly some truth in that, and I can think several people I’ve known who fit that mold precisely. Their knowledge is ‘a mile deep but an inch wide’. They know a lot about one thing, but know very little about anything else.
r/K Selection Theory, The Evolutionary Psychology Behind Politics
Taken a step forward, how does this explain our current political environment, as opposed to a person’s political outlook in general?
For example, the relative peace and plenty available to Westerners since the end of WWII explains the increasing expression of r type behaviors. And their political preferences, from LBJ to Obama, have approached the economic environment with the idea that whatever their policy, there will always be more:
1. We don’t really need industry “—“. There are other jobs those people can do, or if they can’t find work, we can just give them benefits and EBT cards.
2. Industry Y is very successful, take more from them and give it to others. If they go elsewhere, see No.1.
3. We don’t like the way A,B,and C is done. Follow these 10,000 rules or be fined or imprisoned. If they go elsewhere, see No.1
At some point that policy catches up with you and there is no ‘more’ left. No jobs, no money, no infrastructure, no grid power, no law and order, just the smoking ruins of what had been. Like a field stripped clean by locusts. It’s a form of slash and burn social organization.
As another example, how does r behavior explain the Left’s desire to ally themselves islamists, a violent, totalitarian cult? Why invite violent rapists into your society, cover up their crimes, persecute those who talk about or protest their crimes, all while vilifying your fellow citizens as representing an oppressive rape culture? Especially when those same people provided women more freedom, rights, education and opportunity than any society in history? I don’t think r/K theory explains that.
Finally, if we assume that r behaviors rose to prominence because of a time of peace and plenty, will we now see a rising expression of K behaviors of sufficient size and duration to reestablish it?
Our political battle is one between a glut-exploiting reproductive strategy of rabbits and a shortage-surviving reproductive strategy of wolves. The swings between conservatism and liberalism at the societal level are not the result of logical argument or reasoned debate. They are the result of psychological shifts produced by perceptions of K-stimuli in the environment such as conflict, danger, and shortage, or r-stimuli, such as safety, pleasure, and abundance. These perceptions trigger ancient mechanisms in the brain that adapt psychology to environment. All of politics and much of history are r vs K.
9 thoughts on “Evolutionary Psychology May Partly Explain Political Outlook”
“To the pioneers, everything must be worked for, built, exploited, expanded and defended.”
With a limited world this will eventually lead to what we have, Few things left to exploit, too many people for some environments and war.
Really where you want to go?
I am afraid we are the middle generation in the well known adage “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”.
We inherited the most powerful economic, cultural, scientific, and military machine the world has ever seen, and have reduced it to a faltering, unsure, bankrupt shell, tottering toward catastrophe with its eyes firmly closed.
We must carefully work to replace the thoroughly corrupt and incompetent leaders we now have in politics, media, academia, and the cultural sphere with people whose primary commitment is to economic and political liberty within a limited, representative government.
The most powerful engine for human development and advancement is still there, and can only be re-started by a full devotion to a free society of independent men and women.
No endless parade of costly, ineffectual, counter-productive statist fantasies can replace the creative energies released by a free people fully engaged in improving their lives in every way they can find.
“We don’t really need industry”…..
I’m glad you concede free traders and Chamber of Commerce types are essentially liberals and that Buchanan and Perot are among those who have represented
“They know a lot about one thing, but know very little about anything else.”
This is the old fox and the hedgehog story.
We are in a “post-modern” era where the elites could not survive without the basic necessities provided by people who know how.
We may get a chance to see this in action with either an EMP or attacks on power stations.
“As another example, how does r behavior explain the Left’s desire to ally themselves islamists, a violent, totalitarian cult? Why invite violent rapists into your society, cover up their crimes, persecute those who talk about or protest their crimes, all while vilifying your fellow citizens as representing an oppressive rape culture? Especially when those same people provided women more freedom, rights, education and opportunity than any society in history? I don’t think r/K theory explains that.”
He explains that a bit here:
(Ctrl-F for the first mention of “enemy”)
I’ve long argued that one of the great evolutionary advantages of home sapiens has been our flexible behavioral software. We can adapt and fit a wide varieties of ecological niches and change rapidly as the needs arise. Tropical jungles, ice floes, seacoast, desert, prairie, mountain – find a niche and fill it!
Compare humans with say, monarch butterflies. They can only eat milkweed and winter in certain trees in specific locations. We can eat just about anything from bugs to bovines, from cauliflower (yuck!) to caviar.
The specialist mentality has had its day in the West but while we can sing “hard times come again no more,” sure as shooting they will and they look like they are upon us.
This flexibility is also seen in human reproductive behaviors. We have harems, monks, monogamists, homosexuals, and so on – all for an evolutionary reason.
I do not believe any theory that claims biological substrates determine ideas. This disbelief stems from my general prejudice against materialism, determinism, and similar philosophies.
Robert, I don’t think it’s meant to be deterministic. I believe he’s saying that research indicates that different psychological and biological profiles are preferentially expressed in the population as conditions change.
Again. I do not believe that there is any necessary connection between biology and ideas. Another way of stating this belief is that any universal Turing machine is capable of executing any program that any Turing machine is capable of executing. By using that analogy, I do not indicate that I accept any equivalence between human minds and digital computers.
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